Friday, November 22, 2013

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder @ The Walter Kerr Theatre

In recent seasons, Broadway has seen a lot of musicals based on popular movies or revivals of classics, so when an unfamiliar story comes across, people are bound to take notice. Housed in the beautiful Walter Kerr Theatre, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, a new musical based on Roy Horniman's 1907 novel, Israel Rank: the Autobiography of a Criminal has something for everyone: comedy, romance, and as the title suggests, homicide.

A Gentlman's Guide begins with an ensemble of mourners dressed in black warning us that "those with weak constitutions" were better off leaving. We then see an almost play-within-a-play; a smaller, vaudeville-esque stage with lush curtains is the main focus as protagonist Montague Navarro (Bryce Pinkham) narrates his tale. Monty finds out soon after his mother's death that he is actually a part of the prestigious D'Ysquith family, and is in fact ninth in line to be the Earl of Highhurst. In order to win the attention of the beautiful (yet snobbish) Sibella (Lisa O'Hare), Monty devises a scheme to “off” the remaining D'Ysquiths and claim the title of Earl, and even catches himself falling for the demure Phoebe D'Ysquith (Lauren Worsham). The action is shown in a series of vignettes , helping to create the play within a play motif.
Credited as "The D'Ysquith Family," Jefferson Mays makes an impressive performance as all eight victims. His distinctions between each character were so remarkable, it takes a few deaths to even realize they're all him. From the effervescently effeminate Henry D'Ysquith to the outrageous drag of Lady Hyacinth D'Ysquith, Mays' performance needs to be seen. The entire cast, ranging from seasoned veterans and those making Broadway debuts, make up an ensemble that is extremely strong despite its small size.  Alexander Dodge's artfully crafted set, along with Aaron Rhyne's striking projection design steal the show. And although at times Robert L Freedman and Steven Lutvak's score felt like it was somewhat repetitive, audiences walk away humming tunes like "Why Are All the D'Ysquiths Dying?" and "Better With a Man."

Entering the performance, based on advertising and even from the impression of the opening number, I was expecting a very dark, macabre musical. However despite the warning, those with "weak constitutions" needn't fear: think less Sweeney Todd and more Thoroughly Modern Millie with a taste for blood. A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder could be, dare I say, perfect for a night out with the family: appropriate enough for tween audiences with the right amount of adult themes. It is a delightfully bloody tale that should be taken notice of.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder opened on November 17 and currently plays at the Walter Kerr Theatre.  

Photos By: Joan Marcus
Review By: Kelcie Kosberg

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Small Engine Repair @ The Lucille Lortel Theatre

In Small Engine Repair, high school buddies Frank, Swaino and Packie —now past their prime—meet off-hours one night in Frank’s out-of-the-way repair shop under cloudy circumstances that only Frank seems to have a handle on. Enter Chad, a plugged-in preppy college jock, whose arrival ignites a long-simmering resentment that sets this taut, twisty, comic thriller on its breathless course.

John Pollono is not only the playwright but he is Frank, owner of Frank's Small Engine Repair, and the reason why these three friends come together. As a playwright, Pollono knocks it out of the park. Even though its packed full with f-bombs and other obscenities, those only enhance the true grittiness of the play. As Frank, he is emotionally engaging, thrilling, and a little frighting; he really brings to life his heart breaking story. James Badge Dale portrays Swaino, their horny argent friend. Dale steals the show with his repulsive, hilarious, and very committed performance. James Ransone is innocent, heart warming, and factious as their well equipped friend Packie. These three men worked so well together, it was believable that they could have actually been friends for years. Keegan Allen ("Pretty Little Liars") plays Chad, preppy college drug dealer. Although Allen is probably the reason for why people are coming to the show, he is certainly not the reason why people are leaving happy. Out of all four of the actors, Allen is unfortunately lackluster, giving a performance that lacks drive and intention.

Worth noting is the intricate set that served as the backdrop for the performance. Richard Hoover clearly outdid himself with this brilliantly constructed, chaotic shop, setting the audience in the garage as easily as if they were there to have their own car parts looked at.

 Small Engine Repairs officially opened at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Wednesday November 20, 2013 and runs a limited engagement production through December 21, 2014.

Photos By: Joan Marcus
Review By: James Russo

Monday, November 18, 2013

Nothing to Hide @ The Pershing Square Signature Center/Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre

Two of the world’s most gifted sleight-of-hand artists, Derek DelGaudio (2011 & 2012 Close-up Magician of the Year) and Helder Guimarães (2011 & 2012 Parlor Magician of the Year) star in this uniquely unconventional magic show, directed by Emmy Award winner Neil Patrick Harris. Through a series of diverse and engaging vignettes, Nothing to Hide leads the audience on an amazing and memorable journey into a world of pure astonishment.

Helder Guimarães and Derek DelGaudio bring a truly incredible show to New York. With only 52 cards, they do things that seem impossible, but this magic duo asks the audience to keep an open mind and allow them to astound them. Their mind blowing magic mixed with Neil Patrick Harris’s wit and comedic timing, makes this one show that you don’t want to miss.

Nothing to Hide officially opened at the The Pershing Square Signature Center/Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre on Wednesday, November 6th and runs a limited engagement production through January 19th, 2014. This is the most you will ever be entertained with 52 cards!

Photo's By: Michael Lamont
Review By: James Russo

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Murder for Two @ New World Stages, Stage 5

        Why is it that every murder mystery is set in New England? Why does the detective himself always have his own dark secret? Why are there always questions but no answers?

            In the intimate space of New World Stages, musical mystery duet Murder For Two keeps us all guessing "whodunit" in a case of the murder of a scandalous novelist who has secrets on everyone in his normally sleepy small town. A simple set, with a bare back wall, two small doors, some "Clue"-esque murder weapons, and a Steinway center stage, becomes the surprise party that quickly develops into the scene of the crime.

            Jeff Blumenkrantz, equipped with not much more than a pair of glasses and a raised eyebrow, almost magically transforms into every guest of the party - the main suspects. From suppressed wife Mrs. Whitney, sultry ballerina Barette Lewis, and over achieving niece Steph, Blumenkratz makes each character so distinct that often you forget most of the time he's talking to himself. As officer (wannabe detective) Marcus, Brett Ryback embodies the spirit of the song-and-dance style of Old Broadway. Ryback gives us a leading man reminiscent of Seymour Krelborn; you want him to pull through because you feel kind of bad for him. Marcus shows off his knowledge in a song on the "Protocol" of being a detective while "accidentally" calling the chief.  "You've been listening this whole time?" he squeals. "How embarrassing!" Both actors remain onstage for the 90-minute length of the show, with so much energy they could give all those Newsies a run for their money.

            What's most impressive about Murder for Two is how well in-sync everyone is with every detail. Blumenkrantz and Ryback switch off playing piano so seamlessly, even performing an intricate duet with both their eyes shut. Jill BC DuBoff's sound design employs sound effects timed so well they feel natural. Jason Lyons' primarily green-and-purple lighting, changes so subtly creating a new scene immediately. The production is so well-rehearsed that it comes off spontaneous, and that's no easy feat, especially with how often the fourth wall is broken. The audience is addressed as "Lou," Marcus' partner. An unsuspecting patron is brought onstage to participate in a death scene. Even better, the actors were able to work through breaking character onstage (then again who wouldn't find the sultry ballerina playing the piano with her foot hilarious?).  It is very apparent this production has been a labor of love, based on how effortless is all comes off. It makes for a better experience as an audience member when it's clear how much those involved in the production are enjoying themselves.
            Murder for Two gets it right, because of how self-aware it is; we are allowed to indulge in just how ridiculous musical comedy can get through clever wordplay and snappy dialogue. Mainstream Broadway is satirized (a choir boy names examples of things he's seen worse than murder, stating "We saw a show called Mamma Mia!"). A dramatic scene ends with "Hatcha! Whoopee! Jazz!" a la Chicago. And in possibly the best anti-cell phone announcement, homage is paid to Patti Lupone's infamous show-stopping Gypsy meltdown.  At one point, a suspect notes that in addition to the murder, "We've already seen the slow, painful death of the American Theatre." On the contrary, Murder for Two is one of the most original pieces I've seen in quite some time, ironically, bringing life back into musical theatre. Many of us walked out of the theatre still laughing from a truly entertaining and memorable piece of work.
            Murder for Two began performances at New World Stages on November 6, and has extended its run from January 5 to March 16.
Photo's By: Joan Marcus
Review By: Kelcie Kosberg

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Becoming Dr. Ruth @ Westside Theatre, Upstairs

Directly following the world premiere at Barrington Stage Company and a sold out run at TheaterWorks, Hartford, Becoming Dr. Ruth gets its New York Premiere Off-Broadway at the Westside Theatre, starring the incredibly loveable Debra Jo Rupp (“That’s 70’s Show”).

The general public knows Dr. Ruth Westheimer from her career as a pioneering radio and television sex therapist. Few, however, know the incredible journey that preceded it. From fleeing the Nazis in the Kindertransport and joining the Haganah in Jerusalem as a scout and sniper, to her struggles to succeed as a single mother coming to America, Becoming Dr. Ruth is filled with the humor, honesty and life-affirming spirit of Karola Ruth Siegel, the girl who became “Dr. Ruth”, Americaʼs most famous sex therapist.

The show opens while Dr. Ruth is cleaning her apartment preparing to move out, and instantly breaks the fourth wall by recognizing that fact that two hundred people are sitting in front of her. From there, her story begins as she takes us on her emotional ride through the Holocaust straight to the hilarity of how she became a sex therapist. Debra Jo Rupp portrays the iconic woman and delivers a stunning performance with exemplary passion and honesty. Dr. Ruth would be so proud of the care that Rupp conveys her story. Despite Rupp’s incredible performance, the script drags and the mood lighting doesn't help the story line. Both of this setbacks are easily over looked due to Rupp’s talent.

Becoming Dr. Ruth officially opened at the upstairs theatre at Westside Theatre,on Tuesday, October 29th and runs a limited engagement through January 12th, 2014. Don’t not miss out on this amazing woman’s journey.

Photos by: Carol Rosegg
Review By: James Russo & Lisa Kosak

Friday, November 8, 2013

La Soriee @ The Union Square Theater

La Soirée is a raunchy, entertaining show full of eroticism and talent. Set up like a circus act, the audience sits around a circular red stage as the centerpiece. Vaudeville, burlesque, cabaret, and circus are performed for the amusement of the crowd, all executed perfectly.

After debuting in London in 2010, Manhattan is lucky to feature such a tongue-in-cheek show. Presented by Brett Haylock, Mark Rubinstein, and Mick Perrin it features a cast of approximately 25 artists all different and interesting in their own right, but when combined bring such a taste of the exotic and fun to the show. Acts vary from male pole dancers to contortionists, to comedy, and acrobatics. There was not a dull moment.

It has won several awards, including the London Cabaret Award for Best One-Off-Show and its previous show La Clique won an Olivier Award in 2008.

Now in previews at the Union City Theatre, the official opening is October 7, 2013 for a limited engagement. I strongly suggest seeing the show before it goes back to London. 

Photos by Seth Walters
Review By: Aziza Seven & James Russo

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Midsummer Night's Dream @ The Polonsky Shakespeare Center @ The Theatre for New Audience

Julie Taymor makes her return to the New York stage since her family raved, critically acclaimed travesty Spider-Man Turn of the Dark, with the Theater for New Audiences production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream brilliantly conjoins four intertwined stories: the marriage of the Athenian Duke Theseus to the Amazon queen Hippolyta; the warring Oberon and Titania, king and queen of the fairies; the madcap follies of four lovers in a forest; and the comically earnest efforts of a group of working men to stage a love-play for the royal wedding. Lysander loves Hermia, whose father wants her to marry Demetrius. Helena loves Demetrius, who chases the eloping Lysander and Hermia into the woods, pursued by Helena. They are all fair game for mischievous Puck, Oberon’s servant, who scrambles their desires and Titania’s. As the working men press faithfully on with their rehearsals, the otherworldly night of confusion, passion and diligence proves oddly momentous, touching every life to the quick.

There is no doubt about the fact that Julie Taymor had a hand in this extravagant production - technically brilliant, iconic animal work, and stranger than you can believe. Taymor is the only person who can turn Shakespeare's most magical play into a haunted encounter that will inspire goosebumps. By using an ensemble of children for the spirits, fairies and the forest, she was able to create interactive staging, turning something usually farcical and bright to something dark and bone chilling. The special effect of modernizing and exaggerating the character's jobs by drawing parallels from the "then" age to the "this" age kept the humor flowing and a lightness to this otherwise dark adaptation of the Bard's play. Taymor has surely redeemed herself.

Olivier Award winning Kathryn Hunter leads the cast as Puck. Hunter is glorious, fun, and flexible in more ways than one. Dressed in vaudevillian garb, she delivers a performance that is hard to top. David Harewood and Tina Benko, provide a near perfect portrayal of Oberon and Titania. Max Casella is the clear stand out of the cast as he takes on the taxing transforming role of Bottom. Casella is alluring, hysterical and engaging.

A Midsummer Night's Dream officially opened at the Theater for New Audiences on November 2, 2013 and is running through January 12, 2014. Don't miss out on this beautifully haunting original interpretation.

Photos by: Josef Astor
Review by: James Russo

Monday, November 4, 2013

After Midnight @ The Brooks Atkinson Theatre

After MidnightEver wondered what it was like to sit in a club, listening to big band jazz and watching skit after skit of rising talent in the heart of New York City in the 1930’s? Well, now you have the chance. After Midnight conceived by Jack Viertel featuring American Idol winner, Fantasia and narrated by “Psych’s” Dulé Hill is a rousing good time created to invoke such a feeling.
The show incorporated so much of what made old Broadway shows spectacular before we had such technological advances that make Spiderman and Wicked spectacular. The music is the jazz collection of Ellington, Mills, Koehler, and Arlen and brings back to mind the time when, while the country was devastated by the Depression, there were still those daring to dream and compose and create.

Highlights of the show include French dancer, Karine Plantadit whose magnificence onstage is indescribable. She communicates perfectly her situation onstage; drawing the audience in to her heartbreak and joy effortlessly. Adriene Lenox delivers comedy with her solos that made my sides ache from laughing so hard. Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Phillip Attimore, and Daniel Watts bring the art of tap back on to Broadway in a glorious way. Their percussion is spot on and inspires. While I’m on the subject of tap, Jared Grimes wowed the audience with his tap number to Duke Ellington’s “Tap Mathematician.”
Another performance worth mentioning is the performance given by The Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars! The orchestra was onstage the entire time and was having a good time which translated in their music. I am so pleased I was able to see such talent.

The only thing that didn’t heighten the show was the performance given by Fantastia. I had expected more from her, but I found her numbers to be rather boring compared to the rest of the show. And while this only an aesthetic critique, I feel it needs to be said, women did not have tattoos in the 1930s and I found hers to be incredibly distracting from the show whenever she was onstage.
After Midnight officially opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on November 3, 2013 and is running through March with special guest star K.D. Lang performing from Feb. 11-Mar. 9 and Babyface and Toni Braxton performing Mar.18-30. Here is where you can find tickets: After Midnight on Broadway.

Photos by Matthew Murphy
Review by: Aziza Seven